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Spotlight on Needs of People in Poverty Could Help Agencies Reduce Barriers, Bridge Gaps


A research project is helping find out the specific needs of people in poverty here in Syracuse.  The findings will help local service agencies collaborate better … and hopefully help more people get ahead.  

Just what are the needs of some of Syracuse’s most impoverished residents? 
And why aren’t local agencies solving them?  These questions are at the center of new research from the Central New York Community Foundation

The Northeast Community Center has been participating in the initiative.  Program Director Patty Sullivan says one takeaway is that people struggling with poverty have a variety of challenges.  She’s finding this new data shows which clients of local agencies have specific needs.

“One of the biggest struggles I think, with any agency, is trying to meet all the needs.  And I think that is why working with other agencies is so helpful in meeting the needs.  What we can’t provide, they can.”

The data comes from 1500 anonymous surveys of people getting anti-poverty services.  It shows:  28-percent don’t have access to long-term, affordable housing;  30-percent could not afford housing or food without government supports; 25-percent lack job skills.  Community Foundation Vice President Frank Ridzi knows numerous agencies work on these issues … but could do better with better data.

“I’ve heard for years and years, ‘We have this great information session on housing or legal services (or other issue), and nobody shows up.’  But here’s the difference: now we have 17 people that need that.  Please come, we’ll reach out to those people.  This way it’s all about coordinating our services better and doing it not in the dark.”

The initiative is called the Performance Management Learning Community … and will continue to gather more data.  Sullivan says the shared information allows the Northeast Community Center to dig deeper into the reasons someone might struggle getting out of poverty.

“I think the needs assessment will allow us to set individuals we serve up for success, as opposed to failure. I think many times people can come into the agency and just say, ‘I need to get a job.’ But let’s look at what has prevented them from not only obtaining but also maintain employment in the past.”

Sullivan finds the needs assessment – showing where more help is needed with housing or child care, transportation or mental health services – supports their “Crisis Matrix” – a recognition of how barriers compound to keep someone in poverty. 

CNYCF Vice Pres. Frank Ridzi & Northeast Community Center Program Dir. Patty Sullivan join WAER's Chris Bolt to discuss how services to relieve poverty could improve through new research initiative.

Ridzi says more accurate information can help  in the same way people say it takes a village to raise a child.

“It also takes a village to help somebody have the ladder rungs in place to climb out of poverty.  We were realizing we need a structure that helps people do that without the guess work.  And you’ll know when you’re making a difference.” 

The Community Foundation has issued grants to The Center for Community Alternatives, Women’s Opportunity Center, Workers’ Center of C-N-Y, Everson Museum and Northeast Community Center to help get data on the needs of those in poverty … and whether programs are meeting those needs.  

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.